What the moon jellyfish lacked in bones, brains and hearts, it has overcompensated for in its astounding powers of transformation and regeneration.
Just like F. Scott Fitzgerald's Benjamin Button, the moon jellyfish Aurelia possesses the ability to age backwards, a new study discovered. With its four-leaf clover-back and its fringe of thin tentacles, the squishy marine creature can regenerate in reverse and even form hordes of clones.
A Remarkable Transformation
Typical jellyfish usually begin life as larva, and then turn into a polyp on a coral reef or the ocean floor. The polyp buds release swimming medusae that spawn and die.
However, marine biologist Jinru He of Xiamen University in China saw a different life process unfold.
Five years ago, Jinru had collected a baby male moon jellyfish from the ocean. He then raised the baby jellyfish into a full-grown medusa. After eighteen months, the moon jellyfish reached old age and died.
Moon jellies are widespread all over the world, but not many of them thrive in eastern China.
"I treasure the samples," said Jinru. "When they become old I tend to keep them because I always hope for a miracle."
With that, Jinru placed the creature's corpse to a new tank with new water where he would be able to observe it.
Three months later, a strange polyp emerged from the marine animal's degraded body. Jinru said it was an amazing moment, especially because it was something that had never been seen before.
As Jinru raised the polyps into medusae, it settled to the new tank's floor. Instead of dying, the polyps morphed into a younger polyp stage, just like Benjamin Button. How did that happen?
The moon jellyfish's life cycle is comparable to that of a butterfly, in which a caterpillar is like a polyp, Jinru said. The polyp was like a scrap of butterfly wings that sprouted into a caterpillar.
In some of the medusae, calluses formed in their mouths if they were injured or overfed. Small polyps grew outside those lumps, and they burst free to form multitudes of clones.
Jinru's findings are new to the scientific community, but jellies are already known for their transformation abilities.
Italian scientists had discovered in the 1990s that the jellyfish Turritopsis dorhnii, which was so tiny that it was the size of a pen tip, can revert back and forth from a medusa to a polyp. The creature has earned the nickname "immortal jellyfish."
However, it is unclear whether the mechanism behind the moon jellyfish's transformation is the same with the immortal jellyfish. Further research into state of the cells and genes of the creature during morphing is needed.
Meanwhile, Jinru's findings are featured in the journal PLOS ONE.
Photo : Chris Williamson | Flickr